Driving east from Texas, I crossed through Arkansas and into Memphis, Tennessee with the great Mississippi River as it’s border. Although it didn’t resemble the Mississippi of Tom Sawyer and paddle boats, it was still the Mississippi, and cool for this west coast girl to see. Memphis was a stop for gas, and a Wells Fargo search. Finding both and taking in the sights that all of twenty minutes allowed, it was back on the freeway heading toward Nashville. Immediately apparent was the beauty of Tennessee. Eastern Redbuds flowered along the interstate, with rolling green hills as far as I could see. Not only was the countryside lovely, but it appeared that everything from the highways to the road signs were a source of pride for this state. Funny the things you notice when driving cross country.
At dusk I took the turn-off toward Franklin, twenty minutes south of Nashville. Google Map definitely took me on the rural route, which was a glimpse of what I would eventually know of this region. Driving up and down through rolling hills, with the scent of fresh cut grass, blooming trees and flowers, and the occasional mini-mansions and farms dotting the hillsides, it was a nice ending to the eleven hour drive. Visiting friends here is something I’ve been trying to do for years, and I’m fortunate to finally have that opportunity. After roaming around the region a bit, I now understand what they’ve been trying to tell me all along….beautiful state, nice people and Franklin is irresistible.
Franklin was founded on October, 26, 1799 and named after Benjamin Franklin. Before the civil war, Williamson County was one of the wealthiest in Tennessee, with Franklin its county seat and center of plantation economy. On November 30, 1864 the Battle of Franklin was fought resulting in 9,000 casualties and turning homes, buildings and plantations into hospitals. Historians refer to it as one of the bloodiest five hours in history. The best-selling book, The Widow of the South, was based on the true story of Carrie McGavock. The McGavocks opened their Carnton Plantation to serve as a hospital for the wounded, and later donated part of their land as a cemetery for the fallen soldiers.
It took 120 years for the economy to reach pre-war levels, but Franklin has rebounded nicely. It is one of the wealthiest cities in the U.S. and home to celebrities, musicians, and writers working in the country music mecca that is Nashville. The downtown retains its beautiful architecture and sense of place, with the surrounding fifteen blocks teeming with 19th century homes in perfect condition. They serve as residences, offices, boutiques and restaurants. Even a cupcake shop blends the old with the new seamlessly.
What about Tennessee wine? I know very little about it, so a bit of research was in order. According to the Tennessee Wine Growers Association, there are over 33 wineries in Tennessee, with more sprouting up each year. Wines of the South, a regional wine competition, highlights wine produced by fourteen southern states. Along with the traditional varietals, Traminette, Steuben and Muscadine pop up in the award categories.
A road trip with my friend was planned to a nearby winery, Arrington Vineyards. Thirty minutes south of Nashville, Arrington Vineyards is known for award winning wine, but familiar to many by it’s co-owner, Kix Brooks, the country music star of Brooks and Dunn fame. The vineyard was kicking off the season with it’s annual Spring Break Party, and we were up to the challenge of fighting off a few thousand people to taste wine on a beautiful Tennessee spring day.
Deciding to brave the line in the wine shop for a bottle of Viognier, I waited patiently as the line ebbed toward the cash register. A tall man wearing a cowboy hat came through the door where I was standing, and by the quiet mumble of the people in front of me I thought that this could perhaps be Mr. Brooks himself. (Confession….I know very little about country music, but you must be living under a rock not to know Brooks and Dunn. But what they look like, I haven’t a clue) He quietly asked the people ahead of me in line, “How long have you been waiting?” Ah, a hands-on owner. Gotta love it. In unison, we fell over ourselves to make him feel good and said, ”Oh, hardly no time at all! Just a few minutes! The line is really moving!” Liars…all of us. Oh well, that’s what you do when someone has the reputation of Mr. Brooks, and is astonishingly unassuming and friendly. Choosing the right moment to ask for a quick photo, he graciously obliged. These country music guys are damned handsome.
Time to say good-bye to friends, Franklin, and Tennessee. Leaving claw marks on the banister as I’m dragged out of the house and unceremoniously plunked into my car, I realized this was a place I would come back to again and again. Franklin offers a bucolic mix of beauty, quaintness, history, and extremely nice people. Could I live here? Humidity-Shoomidity! Perhaps.